checking in with old friends

In 1994, when Jesse and Celine were wandering around Vienna, I was 13. I didn’t meet them until I was about 17 or 18, I think, when I liked them, but didn’t love them. I grew to love them while I was at university.

Promenade Plantée, Paris
Promenade Plantée, Paris

In 2004, when they met up again in Paris I had just graduated from university, travelling in central Europe. I saw them, in Paris, in a small cinema in Salzburg with a very dear friend. I loved meeting them again, hearing their conversation and investing in their relationship

Now, in 2013, when they’re on holiday in Greece, I’m working in London. I’m 32, the age Celine was when they were in Paris.

They’re always just a few years ahead of me, walking and talking and living their way around Europe, a little example of what is before me.

And, if you don’t know who Jesse and Celine are, then I kinda feel bad for you. You’re missing out. They’ve been my friends for half my life, in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and now, Before Midnight.

Today I watched Before Sunset again, before going to see Before Midnight, and realised that I am now the same age as Celine was then. And, watching them walk along the Promenade plantée, I completely love them and the way their conversation flows and they move from serious – ‘Do you have kids?’ – to mocking – ‘Yes, two – shit I left them in the car, with the windows up, it was six months ago.’ They are how I am with my friends, how I would be, if I ran into the people I knew for a short while ten years ago. Their lives are the way lives are, they go the way they go. They are universal (because I’m hardly the only person attached to them like this) and completely, specifically, themselves.

And so, to Before Midnight (slightly terrified after watching them talk about Jesse’s marriage for 15 minutes) to find out where they are at 42.

PSA: If you’ve not seen Before Midnight and you’re even thinking of intending to, then stop reading now (and come back when you have, I want to know what you think).

Coming out of it, I simultaneously want it to be ten years time now, so I can see the next stage of the journey, because it came perilously close to breaking my heart and because I am terribly invested in Jesse & Celine making it through the next 56 years to their 75th anniversary. But I also want to spend the next ten years catching up with them and learning from them and their wisdom and mistakes – and especially from Celine, who I think might be the really great, fully realised female character of modern cinema.

Each film opens with Jesse, and then goes on to meet Celine. He is the way in. I love the way Linklater is examining modern masculinity through him, and I like Jesse as a person. But Celine is who really holds me, as she fights to balance her intelligence and her passion to do work that matters with her love for her daughters, and for Jesse’s son Henry, and her desire to nuture them; her understanding that the fairytales her daughters love are just that, fairytales, and her awareness that long-term relationships aren’t all romance and passion, but have down-time and take work, with the fact that she cannot fully shed the desire for more romance and passion, and for the work being just a little bit easier because she grew up with the same tales they are; and her desire to spend the next 56 years of her life with Jesse with the suspicion that no relationship can last that long in a world where the participants in it have the option to walk away .

When she jumps at high speed straight to the logical end point of Jesse’s desire to be more present in Henry’s life and clings to a possible move to Chicago as the centre point of their argument through the film, I simultaneously want to tell her not to go so fast, because that’s not what he’s saying, and empathise with her desire to fight the outcome she dreads and loathes with all of her being because of the way it demands more compromises of her than of him. When Jesse says, ‘I just want to have a rational conversation about this’, I get mad alongside her, because it assumes that her fears and precipitant anger are irrational – an assumption that even the good guys, like Jesse, routinely make – when they’re not, even though she is going at it too fast and making it harder to reach a resolution that will be good for her. When she comes back into the room and sits down beside him and says, ‘This, THIS is what I’m scared of,’ I want to cry because I carry a lot of that baggage, at ten years younger and without a long term partner. And when Jesse comes to her at the end, I wish with her that he would just sod off and leave her alone, and hope with all of my heart that he won’t give in and walk away, but will keep beating on the walls she’s trying to put up to make what she thinks is an almost inevitable walking away less painful.

The ending of Before Sunset is one of the most perfect endings of a film ever. It is a moment that is romantic and rich, and earned and real. It is so dear to my heart that a bit of me has been convinced that Jesse has spent the last nine years in freeze frame, laughing, on the sofa, perfectly happy as Celine dances around her flat to Nina Simone. I almost didn’t want them to make Before Midnight at all, because I knew that it would hurt. And it did hurt. It’s the film that no one makes, because it hurts, and because even the ending, while hopeful is bittersweet and fragile. I didn’t want Before Midnight to be made, because it would break the fairytale which I wanted to buy into. I need Before Dawn – or whatever they call the next one – to be made, because I need to know they can survive without the fairytale.

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